The Official Top 10 List of Tom Hanks’ Greatest Films

My first exposure to actor Tom Hanks was as a small child watching him on the television series Bosom Buddies. In that series, Hanks and Peter Scolari play advertising writers who disguise themselves as women in order to live in an apartment in a Female Only building – apparently the only apartment in their price range.

Hanks was goofy and likeable, and the world fell in love with this quirky actor. I think “likeable” is probably the best way to describe Hanks. He’s not the most handsome man in the world, he doesn’t have the build of a male stripper, he’s just likeable.

Hanks’ movie career took off shortly after the cancellation of Bosom Buddies, with early comedic hits like Splash, Bachelor Party, and Big. He started adding dramatic roles to his resume like parts in A League of Their Own, Philadelphia, and Forrest Gump. After winning Best Actor Oscars for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, Hanks cemented himself as box office gold.

From comedy to drama, Tom Hanks has had a distinguished career in film. While Hanks has turned in numerous memorable performances, here are my picks for his Top 10 films of all time.

10) The Green Mile is a 1999 film written and directed by Frank Darabont. It is based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. Hanks turns in a solid performance as the central character – a death row prison guard during the Great Depression, circa 1935. The story has a supernatural element to it, as a giant inmate with the soul of an angel touches the lives of the guards and other prisoners as he faces execution for a crime he didn’t commit. Michael Clark Duncan earned a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination for his role as the wrongly convicted man. The film was nominated for Best Picture, Best Sound, and Best Adapted Screenplay, as well.

9) The Terminal is a 2004 film from director Steven Spielberg, with whom Hanks has a strong relationship. They’ve collaborated on several projects to award-winning results. In this film, Hanks plays an Eastern European man who is trapped in New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. Hanks’ character hails from the fictional Krakozhia. When a coup occurs and the U.S. refuses to recognize Krakozhia’s new government, Hanks’ character can neither be admitted to the U.S. nor returned to his home country. As such, he takes up residence in the airport. Co-starring the lovely Catherine Zeta-Jones, this film will make you laugh and cry. It is a beautiful film. Diego Luna turns in a memorable supporting performance as well.

8) A League of Their Own is a 1992 film directed by Penny Marshall about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that was formed to keep Major League Baseball afloat while male athletes were called to duty in World War II. The film stars Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna, and Rosie O’Donnell as players on the Rockford Peaches all girl baseball team in the AAGPBL. In a supporting role, Tom Hanks portrays Jimmy Dugan, an alcoholic ex Chicago Cub tasked with managing the team. He despises the job, and treats it like a joke until the players make him see that they’re for real athletes. It is a very well-rounded performance by Hanks in a really great sports film that walks the line between comedy and drama.

7) Big is a 1988 comedy that stars Tom Hanks as a boy who, thanks to a wish, becomes a man overnight – physically that is. Inside, he’s still just a little boy. He must then figure out things like living on his own and finding a job. He learns that while there are some advantages to being an adult, almost all of us miss being a kid. Childhood is too short. The happiest adults are those who are still in touch with their inner child. Big was directed by Penny Marshall, who would also direct Hanks in A League of Their Own. Hanks is absolutely brilliant as the boy-man. Hanks shows the joys of being a child as well as the heartache of youth. Perhaps only Robin Williams could have pulled off the role with as much authentic childhood charm. Ironically, Robert De Niro was attached to play the role before dropping out due to scheduling conflicts, leaving the door open for Hanks to make one of the greatest films of his career.

6) Saving Private Ryan is a 1998 film from director Steven Spielberg that takes place during the Invasion of Normandy during World War II. Tom Hanks plays Captain John H. Miller who is tasked with leading a small team of soldiers to find Private first-class James Ryan (played by Matt Damon) and deliver him home safely after his three brothers were all killed in action. The film is epic. Spielberg redefined cinema with the graphic opening of the film – putting the viewer in the action of the landing at Normandy. An ensemble piece, the film also features Edward Burns, Tom Sizemore, Vin Diesel, Barry Pepper, Giovanni Ribisi, Dennis Farina, Ted Danson, Bryan Cranston, and Paul Giamatti.

5) Toy Story was the first feature-length fully computer-animated film. Released in 1995, the film was made in cooperation between Pixar and Disney. The film focuses on the relationship of a child’s favorite toys as they come to life when humans aren’t around. Tom Hanks provides the voice of Sheriff Woody, the longtime favorite toy of Andy. Tim Allen provides a William Shatner-like characterization of Andy’s new favorite toy, Star Command astronaut Buzz Lightyear. The film led to multiple sequels, which have all done well at the box office as well as with critics.

4) Punchline is a 1988 drama about the world of stand-up comedy. Written and directed by David Seltzer, Punchline investigates the world of stand-up comics – their desperation to be funny is often gritty and painful. It’s like an addiction or an itch that needs constant attention. Tom Hanks plays Steven Gold. He was supposed to be a doctor, but the world of stand-up comedy called to him. Sally Fields plays a middle-aged housewife who thinks that it would be fun to try stand-up and has instant success that Gold is both drawn to and jealous of. The way their lives intersect makes for great cinema. Punchline is not as well known as many of Hanks’ big box office hits, but it is one of his best. If you haven’t seen it, make a point to.

3) Catch Me if You Can is one of the best films of all time. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Frank Abagnale, who had performed millions of dollars in scams while posing as an airplane pilot, doctor, and lawyer, all before the age of 19. DiCaprio should have won an Academy Award for his performance as young Abagnale. Tom Hanks provides a stellar supporting performance as FBI agent Carl Hanratty who spends years tracking the young con-artist. The film was directed by Steven Spielberg from a Jeff Nathanson script based on the real Abagnale’s 1980 book of the same name.

2) Cast Away is a survival picture from director Robert Zemeckis, made in the year 2000. In the film, Tom Hanks plays a man who gets marooned on an island after his airplane crash lands in the ocean. Hanks is the only survivor and must use his wits to stay alive on the island for four years. Finally, he can take the isolation no more and risks taking to the open water on a raft in hopes of being spotted and rescued. Hanks underwent an amazing physical transformation. In fact, production was stopped for a full year for Hanks to lose weight and grow his hair out to be believable as a castaway. Hanks deservingly received a Best Actor Academy Award nomination, losing unjustly to Russell Crowe’s performance in Gladiator.  

1) Forrest Gump is a 1994 drama based on the 1986 book of the same name by Winston Groom. Directed by Robert Zemeckis from an Eric Roth script, the film stars Tom Hanks in the title role. Gump is a good-natured man who isn’t very bright, but finds himself in a series of unique experiences throughout history. The film creatively uses archival historical footage and inserts Hanks’ image as Gump into moments in history. Gary Sinise and Sally Field turn in Oscar-caliber supporting performances. The film won six Academy Awards including Best Actor for Hanks, Best Director for Zemeckis, and Best Picture. John Travolta, Bill Murray, and Chevy Chase were all considered for the role of Gump. Hanks recognized the brilliance of the script right away though, and signed on to star within an hour and a half of reading the script.

Peace. Love. Trust.

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